The government is planning to hammer out an agricultural trade agreement with Papua New Guinea that would involve a possible compromise on tuna processing, according to Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol.
Piñol said the agreement will be discussed during a bilateral meeting between officials of the Philippines and Papua New Guinea at the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Vietnam on November 9.
At the sidelines of the launching of the Department of Agriculture’s Karne, Isda Supply Supporta sa Masa at Ekonomiya project on Wednesday, Piñol added one of the issues that Manila wants to raise is the plan of Port Moresby to monopolize the processing of tuna caught by Filipinos in Papua New Guinea waters.
“We have a problem with Papua New Guinea right now. Before, Filipinos can catch tuna in Papua New Guinea and process it in the Philippines. Now, their government wants all tuna caught in their waters to be processed in Papua New Guinea,” he said.
“If that pushes through, then our tuna-processing industry here would be affected. The request of the stakeholders in the tuna industry is for them to be allowed to process part of their catch in the Philippines,” Piñol added.
He noted that Papua New Guinea’s plan to monopolize the processing of tuna caught by Filipino fishers could result in the displacement of factory workers here.
According to Piñol, some 40 percent of the Philippines’s tuna catch comes from Papua New Guinea.
The Philippines has access to the tuna-rich High Seas Pocket 1 area, which is bounded by the exclusive economic zones of Micronesia to the north and east, Palau to the west and Indonesia and Papua New Guinea to the south.
Manila is hoping that Port Moresby would agree to a compromise and defer its plan. Piñol added that the Philippines is keen on helping Papua New Guinea develop its rice sector.
“Papua New Guinea has long been asking the Philippines to help them in their effort to produce more rice because they are dependent on imports despite their vast land area,” he said.
“So [rice production] would also be taken up during the bilateral meeting. The Philippines will help Papua New Guinea develop their rice sector in consideration of their leniency to our tuna stakeholders,” Piñol added.
He also said Filipino rice producers will be encouraged to venture into Papua New Guinea’s grains sector.
“The population of the Philippines is growing at such a rate that there would come a time when we would need more areas for rice farming. Papua New Guinea is interested in developing their rice sector but they lack the right technologies,” Piñol said.
“The moment Filipino investors are able to satisfy Papua New Guinea’s demand for rice, they can consider bringing into the Philippines rice produced there,” he added.
Papua New Guinea has 49 million hectares of land, but it has a population of only 7 million.